[If writing your first nonprofit mission statement, you may want to ready: Ready to Write a Mission Statement? Let’s Get Started!]
If your organization has been in existence for a while, it is important to check that your organization is still doing what the mission statement sets out. Take some time to look at your organization’s programs, activities, and overall mindset to ensure your organization stays aligned with your mission statement and is compliant with the tax-exempt purposes as defined by the IRS.
Evaluate how well your organization is staying true to its mission statement. While growth and development can be expected, it is important to be able to tie in all your activities to your mission statement.
To do — check that every activity ties to your mission.
Before starting a new program or applying for a new grant, make sure that your organization always comes back to the mission statement during the planning process.
- Does the new program or initiative further our mission?
- Are the grantor’s priorities aligned with our mission?
- Will accepting the grant funds help us accomplish our mission?
- How can we incorporate a step in our planning process to ensure that we consider our mission statement before we move forward with a new initiative?
Is the mission still accomplishing an appropriate charitable purpose?
While evaluating whether your organization is staying true to its mission statement, you should also verify that your organization’s activities do not conflict with IRS regulations for tax-exempt organizations.
The IRS has a clear definition for what makes an organization tax-exempt:
The exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals. The term charitable is used in its generally accepted legal sense and includes relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights secured by law; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.
Are your organization’s initiatives and mission still related to these exempt purposes?
Is it time to re-write your mission statement?
Every 2-3 years your organization should also assess your nonprofit’s mission statement.
- What progress has the organization made in furthering our mission statement?
- Is the initial problem we sought to solve still a problem?
- Is our focus too narrow or too broad?
If a revision is needed, your staff and board should review that the new mission statement remains consistent with tax-exempt purposes.
Also consider how the change in mission will affect donations received by the organization. Gifts received by a nonprofit must be used for the expressly declared purposes of the nonprofit when the gift was received. If the nonprofit’s mission and purpose changes too much, you have an obligation to tell the donor, and possibly give back funding.
Your board of directors should formally approve the new mission statement. The bylaws may need to be amended to reflect the change in the mission. Your articles of incorporation (sometimes known as a certificate of formation) will need to be amended if the purpose in the document is no longer up to date.
About.com: How to Avoid Mission Statement Creep
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The Cullinane Law Group works exclusively with the nonprofit sector. We set up and maintain strong and legally compliant nonprofits that have solid bases for long-term success. We provide risk management and offer practical solutions for sound governance. We help nonprofits, foundations, religious organizations, and social entrepreneurs throughout the United States who seek to create positive change.